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Setsubun at a Japanese Kindergarten

setusbun-kindergarten

Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! / Demons out! Luck in!


Today was Setsubun – a festival held the day before the beginning of spring in Japan. It’s accompanied by a special ritual called mamemaki to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away evil spirits for the year to come. Traditionally roasted soybeans are thrown at a person dressed in a demon mask, while people shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Demons out! Luck in!”) It dates back about 600 years.

At my current kindergarten they do things a bit differently. Each class makes its own giant oni (demon), and then they bring them all to the hall where they stand them in a row. When I told the kids I was scared of the demons they had made and they laughed at me, saying they weren’t real. Little did they know that one of the sports teachers was hiding in the attic with a microphone and was about to bring them to life. He started growling and shouting, and all the kids lost the plot thinking the cardboard demons had come to life. They started throwing soybeans at the monsters, hysterically shouting Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! Many kids were crying and terrified, but this event is a right of passage in Japan.

Later in the day the kids drew a picture of what they experienced. I had lunch with one particular class and was chatting to a few kids who I knew were petrified in the hall. “Were you scared?” I asked them. “Not at all!” they replied. Bravado from a such a young age. Gotta love it.


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